H. H. Holmes, photo via Calumet 412
At first, the theory seems too far-fetched to be real, but one family descendant of infamous Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes is now moving forward on research he says shows Holmes was likely also Jack the Ripper. Jeff Mudgett is the great-great-great-grandson of Holmes (aka Herman Webster Mudgett), whose gruesome murders were detailed in Erik Larson's outstanding book Devil in the White City, and has already done substantial research on this theory, according to a story in The Daily Mail. When Holmes was caught in 1894 in Chicago, he admitted to 27 murders though some think his total body counts could have been in the hundreds. As Devil recounted, many of his murders came as Chicago underwent a post-Great Fire revival thanks to hosting the World's Columbian Exposition world's fair in 1893.
Mudgett's theory sprang from his own research into his family tree and the atrocities committed by his great-great-great-grandfather, specifically similarities between the murders of Holmes and Jack The Ripper. He went so far as to enlist handwriting experts, several who have said letters written by Holmes and Jack The Ripper were likely written by the same hand. In fact, according to the Daily Mail, "a computer program used by the Postal Service and Department of Justice stated it was a 97.95 per cent match." While Mudgett's isn't a new theory, it's the first time any sort of hard evidence has been presented supporting it.
The research into his dark family history has been collected in a new book by Mudgett, called Bloodstains and Mudgett has been blogging about his research and book at the book's website. Among Mudgett's research is whether or not Holmes ever traveled abroad and how this might dovetail with some British theories that Jack The Ripper wasn't a London resident but rather a tourist who eventually left England. Holmes moved to Chicago in 1886 and lived here until his arrest in 1894; the five murders historically attributed to Jack The Ripper occurred in London in the fall of 1888.
In an interview earlier this year with Ancestry.com (full video below), Mudgett said of his investigation, "the truth is a beautiful thing to me, a gorgeous thing."
Of course, we're a skeptical society today and the fact that Mudgett is out there promoting a book while also revealing this very sensationalistic theory certainly carries more than a whiff of self-promotion. There are also the clear plugs he puts in for Ancestry.com in his interview with that site. On his blog, Mudgett has dismissed any allegations that he's purely doing this for the money, pointing to the fact his book is self-published and unlikely to earn him very much in the way of any kind of fortune which is a fair point. And so little is known about much of Holmes' life and, of course, nothing is known about Jack The Ripper. The evidence Mudgett has offered up is certainly interesting but too little to make an official confirmation with, something echoed in this interview Mudgett did with WGN. Compounding matters are the sheer number of theories about Jack The Ripper: whether it was one killer or multiple killers; the bevy of people who have claimed to have been Jack; and the lack of evidence other than the killer's m.o.
Still, the idea that the two most prolific serial killers of the late 19th Century are actually one person is not only incredibly compelling, it's totally plausible and worth continuing to look into. (Consider the tidbit that Holmes did allegedly travel to London in 1888, the year of the Ripper's murders.) So the speculation and theorizing will continue to swirl and deepen, likely bringing new life to the legend of Holmes and, perhaps, even more into Jack the Ripper, even if it's unlikely any sort of connection will ever be officially recognized by authorities.
And not to be overlooked, Leonardo DiCaprio will depict Holmes in the upcoming film adaptation of Devil in the White City which will light these theory flames anew.